[Interview] Dr. Thomas W. Laryea, Legal Counsel, Orrick, USA
Dr. Thomas Laryea is an international lawyer focused on sovereign debt restructuring globally and Africa-related finance and investment. Also a member of the prestigious organization, The African Business Roundtable, Dr. Laryea offers expert insights into both public and private economy structures in Africa, and globally.
Please tell us about your company?
Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe (“Orrick’) is an international law firm. We focus on serving the Technology & Innovation, Energy & Infrastructure and Finance sectors globally. These sectors have a string connection with the development and growth within the African continent. Clients worldwide call on our teams for forward-looking commercial advice on transactions, litigation and compliance matters. We bring distinctive quality, teamwork and value to the table – and innovate in everything we do.
I specialize in international finance, including sovereign debt issuance and restructuring, and often represent African governments or their investors in their international finance matters.
With such perception as you have, what would you say African can governments do, individually and jointly, to elevate the continent’s private sector?
This is a difficult economic time for many African governments. The loss of revenue experienced during the height of the Covid pandemic, high inflation, including in food prices, and rising cost of borrowing indicate a very challenging economic outlook. While many countries in Africa will need to rely on some additional financing from multilateral financing institutions, such as the IMF, Word Bank, African Development Bank, in order to overcome the medium-term financial constraints, it is important that African countries are not lulled into a dependency on such sources of financing. They need to maintain or regain access to sources of private financing as soon as possible, which in addition to supplementing the sources of financing to the governments, will provide additional sources of financing to credit worthy domestic corporations whose growth would be critical to the job creation and economic empowerment that our continent needs.
How prepared is Africa to become a knowledge economy?
In my view, the question is misframed in that there are many countries with divergent economies in the continent of Africa. Accordingly, one cannot address this question for Africa as a whole. There are economies in Africa, such as Rwanda and South Africa, in which there has been significant emphasis in growing the services sector of their economies. Such growth is highly dependent on the quality and content of the education systems in the relevant countries. In this regard, we need higher and better skills-centered investment in our education systems in order to advance our African economies in knowledge-based services.
The African Business Roundtable has inked several strategic partnerships and forged useful alliances over the years, always to the benefit of Africa’s private sector. What can we expect for the future?
The ABR Secretariat and Leadership should be commended for the strategic partnerships that they have made with institutions such as Afreximbank and AfroChampions. I consider, however, that these alliances are underleveraged for the benefit of the ABR membership. The ABR is a “sleeping giant,” in similar ways to which the economies in Africa are performing well below their potential, largely due to structural reasons. I would encourage the ABR to focus on optimizing the current partnerships and alliances, as part of a strategic revitalization of the organization before we consider additional partnerships/alliances.
A lot has changed in the world since the ABR was formed 32 years ago. Technology has transformed the way everything is done. How does the Roundtable stay on top of these disruptive changes?
These so-called disruptive changes can be opportunities for innovation and growth. The ABR can do better in leveraging the expertise of firms, such as Orrick, whose daily client-related work involves cross-cutting insights on how technological developments can create additional market opportunities.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being a member of the African Business Roundtable?
I remain associated with the ABR because I have a deep respect for those who initiated the ABR and who have sustained it over the years. I continue to believe in the high potential of this organization to contribute to transformational private-sector growth in our continent. But in order to meet this potential, the ABR will need to radically change its model and to follow-through on the organizational initiatives that have been stalled.
Are there, or will there be seats on the board of ABR for the youth?
It is imperative that the ABR provide seats on its board for young professionals, who can better inform the ABR’s thinking and practices for the future. However, the term “youth” in this question may be ambiguous if it is intended to mean persons below the age of 18. As a professional business association, I think that the ABR should consistently retain its professional business characteristic across its Board membership. Accordingly, I would not be in favor of the ABR Board including seats for “youths” purely for the sake of that inclusion.
About the African Business Roundtable
The African Development Bank Group set up the African Business Roundtable in 1990. Today the ABR is Africa’s foremost and continent-wide association of businesses and business leaders, and is the representative of the African Business Society to the United Nations. An independent, non-partisan, non-profit private sector funded organization, The African Business Roundtable is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) and is the only organization representing the African Private Sector within ECOSOC.
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